By 1940, military planners all but knew that the United States was eventually going to end up embroiled in World War II. Specifications were drawn up for military-specific truck configurations, and Dodge was at the forefront.
Contracts were let initially for a series of half-ton trucks based on the new-for-1940 Dodge civilian trucks with several cab and body configurations, including an SUV-like Carryall wagon. These VC-Series trucks held great promise, and they soon evolved into the WC-Series of military half-ton and lower-profile, three-quarter-ton WC-51 through WC-64 series trucks by December 7, 1941.
The three-quarter-ton trucks distinguished themselves as perhaps the best overall truck of WWII—as they were tougher than the Jeep and even the 1.5-ton Chevrolet—and more maneuverable than the latter to boot.
Now in civvies
When the war ended in 1945, Dodge saw a vast, untapped market for their three-quarter-ton WCs, mostly because of their versatility and the affection that GIs had for them. Vehicles used in combat zones stayed overseas—which included documented instances of them being dumped into the ocean after the war—as part of an agreement that automakers had with the military. Detroit didn’t want to have the post-war market flooded with trucks built during the war.
With only military trucks that were used on domestic bases available on the used-car market, it was a new-truck seller’s market for Dodge. In addition to their warmed-over pre-war truck—now called the WD series—Dodge also answered the demand for a civilian version of the military WC with the introduction of the Power Wagon.
The Power Wagon (originally model WDX until 1957) had an all-business front clip that looked military spec, but it was completely new. Power came from a 230-ci, 94 horsepower version of the venerable Chrysler flathead 6-cylinder engine. Power flowed through a 4-speed transmission (later with synchronizers) and a stand-alone, two-speed transfer case to 5.83-ratio front and rear differentials.
Initially, the pickup box had smooth sides, but in 1951, it became the same embossed high-sided box that was used on all pickups—and continued to be built well into the 1980s. In a swords-to-plowshares fashion, the Power Wagon was available with power take off (driven off the transfer case) to drive an optional front winch or rear belt pulley for farm equipment.
A truck stuck in time
The original WDX/WM-300 Power Wagon was virtually unchanged from its introduction in 1946 until it was finally discontinued for civilian sales in 1968.
Externally, the only difference was the smooth-sided versus embossed-sided pickup box starting in 1951. The few changes over the years were mostly in mechanical details. The greatest change was in 1961, when the engine was changed to the 251-ci, 125 horsepower flathead variant. This was externally larger than the 230-ci engine, and few parts interchange. From there on, only subtle mechanical changes and the serial number are the only sure way to know what year Power Wagon is sitting in front of you.
What seems mind-boggling today is that even when Dodge started using its all-new B-Series cab in 1948, they kept using the circa-1940 cab for Power Wagons—all the way into 1968. During that time, the regular Dodge trucks went through four major cab configuration changes. All the while, the Power Wagon was stuck in the 1946 Wayback Machine.
Even after the WM-300 Power Wagon was discontinued in 1968, a version remained in production for foreign military sales until 1978. This open-cab M601, or Special Power Wagon, was first built starting in 1957. The powertrain paralleled the WM-300 Power Wagon’s, although they were powered by 225-ci Slant 6 engines after the last flatheads went out of production in 1972.
It was sold and distributed through the Military Defense Assistance Program as a lower-cost alternative to the U.S. Military’s M37—and because they were more of a generic vehicle than a very American-military-identifiable M37—which was especially handy in the era of deniability.
Known users of M601’s included the armed forces of Argentina, Denmark, Greece, France, Israel, Mexico, Philippines, and Thailand. The latter country in particular has been something of a Mother Lode for Power Wagon parts in recent years, as they have been coming out of active service.
A slow collector
Early collector interest in Power Wagons was stronger with the off-road crowd, but they’ve become more collectible in their stock form during the past 20 years. These are mechanical mountain goats and are not highway friendly, as 45 mph might be the land speed record.
Running the slow revving flathead any faster than 45 mph—at that speed the rpm are 2,600—is playing Russian roulette with throwing a rod out the side of the block. Unless it was retired from a fire department, the vast majority of them were used hard as heavy-duty tools, and they will a need full restoration to return to stock.
Parts availability is quite good—it is surprising what you can buy for them at the neighborhood NAPA. While restoration and parts specialists in the civilian Power Wagons have a pretty tight market, there’s enough commonality with the military trucks—and their greater number of vendors—that parts prices have yet to become stratospheric, aside from some of the more unique sheet metal and trim.
Two Power Wagons
In 1957, the name Power Wagon assumed multiple personalities. While the original WDX Power Wagon stayed in production as the model W300, it was joined by Dodge’s first “civilian” four-wheel drive, half-ton pickup, the W100. The truck was essentially a D100 with four-wheel drive. Dodge was keen to cash in on the Power Wagon name, so Power Wagon emblems appeared on the hood sides of the W100. As the line of four-wheel-drive pickups continued to expand to one-ton models and larger, by the next year the traditional W300 became the model WM300—but also retained the Power Wagon brand. The old and new styles of Power Wagons continued in parallel for another decade.
The recent sale of a 1965 Power Wagon for $29,150 at the Mecum Indy auction in May 2011 (lot U47) showed that unique vintage trucks are defying the current uncertainty in the collector vehicle market. Originally a California State Park unit, this truck may not have had a purely authentic restoration, but it was close enough to stock—with concessions to driving in the 21st Century—to make it turnkey ready for any collector.
Are Power Wagons collectible at large? Well, yes and no. They will never have the allure that say, first-gen Broncos or early Jeepsters have, as those two icons of the off-road set are simply more usable—dare we say fun to drive? But for collectors that have an extensive military-themed collection, it simply won’t be complete without a Power Wagon—or two or three.